Breaking the Wall in a Seminary’s Hostile Housing Policy

Art by Kristen Malcom Berry,

Over the weekend, news came that my post-graduate alma mater Columbia Theological Seminary has officially decided to not make any changes to its current housing policy, thus continuing to deny students in committed same-gender relationships to live together on campus. The CTS Executive Cabinet spent two years considering the request for a change in policy that was brought to their attention by a group of seminary students. This past Friday, the CTS president, Dr. Steve Hayner, sent a Housing Policy Memo regarding the decision, resulting in an onslaught of letters, emails, blog posts, Facebook posts and Twitter comments. In response to the feedback, Hayner wrote a follow-up memo Monday morning.  Later that afternoon, the president met with more than 100 people (consistng mostly of students, a few alumni and some faculty-staff) in a lecture hall to have a conversation about the housing policy.  It was a blessing to be in the room with so many folks who are deeply devoted to ministry and the work of Christ in the world. I will share more of my thoughts and feelings on that experience and the various responses (in favor of changing the policy) thus far from students and alumni within the next couple of days. But for now I’d like to share a letter written to the CTS Executive Cabinet by student Sheldon Steen, MDiv 2012. I think it’s the most beautiful piece I’ve read thus far.

Dear CTS Executive Cabinet,

            I want to begin by expressing my deep and sincere gratitude for the leadership you provide to this seminary. I recognize that the process you have been going through over the question of the housing policy has been easy for no one, especially you who have the final say on the matter. I also trust each of you enough to appreciate the time and energy you have taken to consider this matter thoughtfully, prayerfully, and faithfully. The unfortunate reality, however, is that sometimes even when we take the time to pray, listen, and discern as faithfully as we possibly can we still it get it wrong. In this case I believe that you got it wrong. I understand that this matter is far from settled, however, your decision for inaction is itself a decision and allows for a discriminatory and unjust policy to continue.

            In my three years at Columbia I have been blessed in so many ways. Perhaps the most tangible blessing I can point to has been living in the Village. The community that exists and that has been built is special. When Mary and I first decided to come to Columbia, our daughter Maya was not yet one. She is now almost four and we have been so blessed to have her grow up alongside other students’ children. We also had a dog that we loved, and still love, very much. We spent months searching for housing in the nearby area that could compare to the Village. Everything we found in the immediate vicinity was far too expensive, far too small, or much further away than we were willing travel for fear of feeling disconnected. We made the difficult decision of giving our dog away to a family member so that we could live on campus and participate more fully in the life of the community. The reality is that living off campus, especially for families with young children, makes it very challenging to experience the fullness of the wonderful community at Columbia. We have not once regretted our choice. However, it was also a choice we were privileged to make only because we are in an opposite-gender marriage that the school’s policy recognizes as valid. Students in same-gender relationships, whom the seminary admits and openly welcomes for admission, cannot simply choose to give away their partners or their children to family members. It is simply unjust and dishonest to admit students and not afford them the basic privilege of living on campus and experiencing life in this community day in and day out. We are lying to ourselves and to prospective students if we continue to call ourselves open, inclusive, welcoming, or any of the other stock terms we so callously throw around. We are better than this.

            This decision deeply saddens and angers me because I believe this was a decision guided by fear rather than hope and trust in the living God. The good news is that your decision is not the last word, for Christ has already broken the dividing wall of hostility (Eph. 2:14). There will certainly come a day when all students and their families will be invited to be full members of the community, and I, along with many others, will continue to struggle for as long as it takes. I pray that as we move forward we can keep an open and honest dialogue and that there will be better transparency in this process. Your leadership and courage is needed now more than ever. I pray that God will continue to work in and through you as we navigate this tumultuous time together. You are in my prayers.


Sheldon Steen, MDiv 2012

Please continue to lift up in prayer the Columbia seminary students, alum, faculty, staff and particularly the CTS Executive Cabinet and President Steve Hayner, asking for wisdom, patience, discernment, courage, love and grace to be upon them in the days, weeks and months ahead.



2 thoughts on “Breaking the Wall in a Seminary’s Hostile Housing Policy”

  1. dear sheldon, you are so awesome! i am so proud of you and your true Christ Like Way of thinking and living. i am so blessed and honored to call you “Son”. thank you for living and speaking the truth without fear, you inspire me and i love you for that. love mom’s

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